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Swing stage inquest launches with poignant widow’s statement

Don Wall
Swing stage inquest launches with poignant widow’s statement

Day one of the Ontario coroner’s inquest into the deaths of four Toronto construction workers in 2009 offered a technical deep dive into the design and fabrication of a crucial swing stage that collapsed, contrasted with a poignant impact statement issued by the widow of one of the workers.

Metron Construction site supervisor Fayzullo Fazilov and workers Vladimir Korostin, Aleksey Blumberg and Alexander Bondorev fell 13 storeys to their deaths on Christmas Eve 12 years ago when the swing stage they were on collapsed.

Dr. John Carlisle is serving as inquest officer, presiding over a virtual event that got underway Jan. 31 and is expected to last a week. An inquest is required by law to investigate every construction death in the province.


A widow’s statement

During the opening session, inquest counsel Jai Dhar read a statement from Oksana Afanasenko, the widow of Aleksey Blumberg, a Ukrainian immigrant who was 33 years old when he died. The couple had been married just three months and were planning to start a family.

“Alex was an amazing person,” Afanasenko’s statement indicated. “We were in love. We had an amazing wedding of around 30 people. We were dancing, laughing. We had so many plans, travelling, buying a house and having a baby.

“After two months he passed away. He was killed.”

The widow is remarried and has an “amazing” family but remains haunted by construction sites, she said.

“It still hurts when I’m thinking or I bump into those places or people that remind me about Alex or when…I see a swing stage in downtown or flowers on construction sites, because those guys still keep dying and it makes me cry. I hope people do everything to change that tragedy.”



A summary of the facts

In his initial remarks Carlisle explained the 12-year time gap by noting that all previous legal processes such as the adjudication of criminal and occupational health charges and personal lawsuits had to be completed before the inquest could be held. There had been significant reforms to health and safety regulations and training in the wake of the tragedy, but the five-person coroner’s jury would have an opportunity to make further recommendations for improvements after hearing evidence during the inquest.

“Inquests are and have for many years been an important part of the system of construction safety in Ontario, and indeed, many of the current rules and regulations surrounding construction safety have arisen from the recommendations of coroners’ juries,” he said.

The jurors are “triers of fact” whose main responsibility is to deliver a verdict by answering the five questions regarding the death: who died, when, where, the medical cause of death and by what means.

Given the numerous proceedings where extensive testimony had already been given, the parties with standing at the inquest had agreed upon a statement of facts covering the essential elements of the case, Carlisle stated.

Dhar outlined key facts from the statement. Korostin, Blumberg, Bondorev, Fazilov, a fifth Metron worker who survived the fall and a sixth who used a fall arrest system were employed restoring balconies at 2757 Kipling Ave. and preparing to descend from the 14th floor at the end of the day.

The workers loaded their tools onto the swing stage, manufactured by Swing N Scaff Inc., and climbed aboard. Metron’s project manager Vadim Kazenelson knew there were only two fall arrest systems on the platform with only the one in use.

“The motors for the stage were engaged and the stage began to descend,” said Dhar. “Within a matter of seconds the brackets connecting the two set of platforms failed, causing the platforms to separate and the stage to collapse.”

Five of the six workers plunged 100 feet to the ground.

Forensic engineer Eugen Abramovici investigated the original incident and according to the statement of facts concluded the swing stage failed because of three main problems.

First, sixteen welds were fractured or cracked from the moment of welding and offered no structural support.

Second, two additional welds were deficient and over time and use they cracked, eventually providing no structural support.

Third, as a result of a faulty design process, pin bolt holes holding the modular sections together were stressed and elongated.

“Subsequent testing also revealed that as a result of these deficiencies, the swing stage would not have been safe for two workers, let alone six workers with tools and equipment,” Dhar stated.

Abramovici gave testimony under questioning by the second inquest counsel, Patrick Woods, and was cross-examined by lawyers for the Ontario Building Trades and Metron. The engineer repeated several times it was his opinion that not only was the welding faulty but the fabrication of the 40-foot swing stage itself did not appear to have followed good engineering principles.

“What I can tell you is that in my opinion, this was a fabricated stage and was not a designed or engineered stage,” said Abramovici, noting he never saw any drawings for the apparatus.

As for the welds, they “did not meet the standards, they should never have been allowed to be placed in the field.”

The inquest continues all week.


Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.

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